The Prototype for Citi Bike Was Invented By Monk Eastman, A Pigeon-Loving Gangster From Williamsburg
Earlier this month, Citi Bike announced that its bike renters had taken over 5 million rides. And while they're certainly the biggest name in the bike rental game today, if they were operating 100 years ago, they'd have some stiff competition from Monk Eastman, an eccentric Brooklyn-born gangster who ran one of the earliest, most successful bike shares in the city's history, when he wasn't busy hoarding animals, beating people up, or smoking copious amounts of opium.
Image via Wikipedia Monk Eastman, circa 1910-1920
Eastman was reputedly born Edward Osterman in Williamsburg, Brooklyn around 1873 (although some accounts contend he was born in Corlear's Hook, now a park area on the Lower East Side). He loved cats and pigeons, so much so that his father, a Jewish restaurant owner, helped set him up with his own pet shop.
But the pet store game failed to excite him, and he left in the mid-1890s to become a bouncer (or "sheriff", as they were then known) at the mammoth New Irving Dance Hall. Eastman sounds like he was a real looker in his prime, according to a description of him in Low Life, Luc Sante's classic book about the seedy underbelly of turn-of-the-century New York:More »